From non-sports fans to the most avid and attentive B/R writers, the difference between a pitcher’s control and command has long been debated. Although extremely similar, there is a difference between the two attributes that could make a break a scouting report…or at the very least help you win a sports argument with a friend.
To have control over one’s pitches means that a pitcher is able to throw strikes. Not just out of the zone swings and misses either, but actual called strikes. A pitcher needs to exhibit the ability to throw a fastball for a strike at any time during an at-bat. They need to make sure that their breaking balls will cross the plate in the strike zone.
If a pitcher is routinely recording quick outs and getting ahead of hitters (0-2 and 1-2 counts) than he has good control because he is routinely throwing strikes.
Without control, basically all hell breaks loose for the guy on the mound. If you don’t have a good feel for your pitches, then it’s going to be a night of free base runners and a lot of runs due to unintentional walks and undoubtedly a multitude of pitches up in the zone.
Some pitchers that have mastered the art of control are Roy Halladay, Mariano Rivera, Tim Lincemcum, and the recently retired Mike Mussina.
Now command can really be a sub-set category under control. Once a pitcher gains control over their pitches they must then move on to learning command. Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches any where they want within the strike zone; they are able to throw not just strikes, but good strikes.
A normal strike can just be a fastball up in the zone that the hitter just misses. A good strike can be a pitch that just gets the outside corner and sends a batter back to the dugout or a ball tailing inside that jams a hitter.
Older pitchers who can’t throw as hard as they used but are still finding at least moderate success (Trevor Hoffman, Jamie Moyer, and Randy Johnson) have all mastered command. Sure they can’t burn you with a 95 plus fastball, but they could ring you up with an 88 MPH cutter that paints the corners or a 76 MPH curve that crosses the plate just at the knees.
Command and control…similar, but not quite the same. These two skills are necessary for any pitcher who wants to elevate their game to the next level. Without the ability to control and command, you will be riding that minor league bus for a long long time.